CHERF Workshop – Statutory & Policy

High-level sector-strategies for rebuilding, recovery and resilience.

The fourth COVID Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) workshop, on 30th June 2020, focused on statutory obligations and policy. Chaired by Professor Ian Baxter, Heriot-Watt University, opening remarks were provided by Euan Leitch, BEFS Director. Over 50 professionals from across the sector participated.




Chaired by Professor Ian Baxter, opening remarks were provided by Euan Leitch, BEFS Director. The workshop was enabled by BEFS, and by Maya Hoole of Historic Environment Scotland. Over 50 professionals from across the sector participated.

Speakers included:

  • Ailsa Macfarlane, Policy & Strategy Manager, BEFS
  • Fergus Murray, Head of Economic Development, Argyll & Bute Council
  • Cara Jones, Senior Professional Development and Practice Coordinator (Scotland) & Rob Lennox, Senior Advocacy Coordinator, Chartered Institute?for Archaeologists
  • Diarmid?Hearns, Head of Public Policy, National Trust for Scotland

Participants raised the following issues in relation to the CHERF key questions:

What is the threat to heritage?

And what contribution can heritage make to the country’s recovery?

  • Wider context of policy agendas
  • Flexibility and potential changes to the planning system
  • Local economic challenges
  • Collaboration and a people-focus

Wider context of policy agendas 

The sector needs to be aware and responsive to large-scale policy agendas beyond heritage, agendas that will create associated impact on the historic environment. Heritage can sit in its own silo – as a sector we need to consider the wider issues that both directly impact, and those that have a knock-on effects.

Policy making has also been happening in silos. Until there is public expression through consultations of the interconnected nature of these policies the resulting outcomes may be?disjointed, inefficient,?and less effective than is necessary to achieve?any of the goals being set within these policies.

As a sector we need to continue to collectively reference the relevant policies in play – whether that be the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland (HEPS), the Planning Scotland Act, or the raft of other policy agendas related to climate, infrastructure, communities, or place – clarifying to policy makers what should be connected, as well as critiquing what’s been presented.  COVID presents the opportunity to pause and review existing policy and legislation, and to ask if they are working for the sector.

Although Brexit has taken a back seat in many people’s mind, the main issues around movement of people, movement of goods, and funding, remain both live, and more pressing as time rolls on. There will be a different landscape for Scotland’s historic environment sector post-Brexit. Between 2007 and 2016 over £26.8 million of EU funding was granted to over 280 heritage projects in Scotland; this will be replaced by the UK prosperity fund, but any details for this fund remain unknow. Local governments are preparing for the very real potential of a no-deal Brexit. The UK Migration Advisory Committee have been gathering evidence of where the shortages were in the workforce (often tricky for heritage as specific occupation numbers can be small); on a positive note, archaeological roles have recently appeared on the list of occupations.

Looking at the horizon for the future of policy reveals numerous topics which may impact on the heritage sector, such as: the continuation of the Community Empowerment Act; energy efficiency measures; social prescribing; the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership’, and tourism agendas (such as the now heightened importance of the Transient Visitor Levy). The Scottish land reform legislation was created in 2016. The Scottish Land Commission continue to make strong recommendations to Scottish Government. There was a call for greater interest from the heritage sector in what is happening in this arena.

There are also new groups for the historic environment sector to work closely with; in relation to COVID, the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce, and the National Partnership for Culture has just been initiated to inform delivery of  Scotland’s Culture Strategy.

There is current a lot of policy development around recovery economics. Whether a Green Recovery, a Wellbeing Economy – or a race back to something akin to ‘business as usual’ – how to express what heritage and our built environment provides within these policy arenas will be key. The maintenance agenda as mentioned in the Built Heritage Investment Report work, and by the Cross Party Group on Tenement Maintenance , provides an example of how we can demonstrate as a sector we support recovery through: direct economic benefits, local supply chain benefits, delivery of skilled employment potential, and directly aiding the transition to net zero. These points all enable stronger arguments to be made for the built environment as of value rather than ‘in need’.

Flexibility and potential changes to the planning system 

COVID has brought on a time of accelerated change and transition. There is pressure on statutory built environment related services, and questions have been raised about whether planning restrictions should be flexed to encourage recovery.

There are hard choices ahead, but they need to be made carefully to ensure communities are at the heart of decision making. Planning systems need to be more flexible and to be open to thinking outside of the box, or many assets are at risk of being lost. COVID has shown what can be achieved quickly.

Flexibility doesn’t mean throwing baby out with bath water; it doesn’t mean letting go of everything. If you go back to the purpose of planning in the Planning Scotland Act it is ‘to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest’. This isn’t the race to the bottom right now; we are looking at the long-term recovery. – Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland   

The agenda of the planning reforms proposed in early 2020 is likely to have changed as a result of COVID and to have different priorities (as may the formation of the 4th National Planning Framework NPF4). The heritage sector needs to show government that it can be flexible going forward by protecting the current system, promoting public benefit, and enabling development. The best way to do this is through incremental changes to industry standards.

As a sector we need to prepare for what were to happen if local government was hit by a new funding crisis, and to consider what might be at risk if government funding to third sector bodies reduces significantly.

The anti-planning stance in the Conservative government has been gaining strength under Boris Johnston and Dominic Cummings leadership. Over the next few months, in England, it is expected that there will be an announcement of proposed tools to substantially bypass planning permissions, which may lead to loss of local authority control, and as such the loss of safeguards for aspects of the heritage sector. Scotland has previously had the tendency to follow England on some planning reform agenda; there is the potential that the historic environment may end up as a low priority under increased pressure and haste. [Addendum: The PM statement on Build, Build, Build was released whilst this event was taking place.]

The proposal is for faster, better and cheaper; the project manager maxim is that you can only have two of those.– Diarmid Hearns, National Trust for Scotland

If there are changes in how government controls spending, there is a risk that specialisms are lost from local authorities. There was a question raised about if we should steer towards local and regional approaches, including with the larger bodies, and if this is the backstop we should be considering. The current system does work, and local authority planning generates a huge amount of funding that supports thousands of jobs. In the instance of the commercial archaeology subsector, for every £1 spent at local government level £15 is generated into the local economy. The UK heritage sector has spent 70 years forming one of the best planning systems in Europe, which has its foundations in local authorities. Yet, these specialists will come under severe pressure.

One of the things we should raise up is that local authorities are under pressure. However, it has become clear from the response to COVID that local authority archaeologists improve resilience; the lack of furloughing and continuation of service provision throughout demonstrates this.Andrew Robertson, ALGAO Scotland 

The Prime Minister has been talking about investing in the economy and has hinted at changes to the planning system, causing much concern about de-regulation. The sector needs to look at how COVID impacts on the policy and advocacy environment and adapt approaches to maintain resilience. The key touchstone will remain the National Performance Framework (NPF) as is clear from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery report, these objectives will remain in place as the government pursues recovery and renewal. Heritage contributes across the NPF goals and the specific indicator is the percentage of pre-1919 dwellings (sites) classified as having disrepair to critical elements. Find out more about this indicator.

The AGER report also talks about the planning system and the need to review policy and consenting frameworks, as well as key infrastructure investment. There is a definite focus on an economic recovery, of streamlining and speeding up; heritage has the ability to fall through the cracks. It is more important than ever to ensure we are targeting national objectives and describing the contribution of heritage.

Local Economic Challenges 

In recent years there have been numerous positive heritage projects in rural communities that have been innovative in bringing buildings back to life. Fifty of these projects were to be implemented pre-COVID in Argyll & Bute alone, despite challenges with Brexit, policy frameworks, and local government funding.

There had been huge engagement with local communities and the third sector. However, COVID has stopped investment in its tracks. It has exacerbated existing problems, such as too many buildings with no function or that are difficult to re-use.

There are huge demands on policy and regulatory services to tackle projects in a pro-active way. Budgets are always a struggle for local government, with overspends common; without support from Scottish Government it is going to be a very difficult landscape for the future. Many projects still have the green light to go ahead, but it is uncertain how long this will last. Many existing heritage properties are facing huge challenges as they have borrowed money with the intention to pay it back through ticketing and event revenue.

Policy has continued to burden planning services with additional tasks assigned with regularity, these directives have failed to come with additional revenue or finance. Currently, due to COVID – without planning applications coming through, there is a loss in income which will put an enormous additional pressure on the system.

In Argyll & Bute they have created an officer collaboration group who make decisions, in light of COVID, to allow projects to go ahead at speed; they perceived that they would lose many more businesses if they were hesitant or strict, and as a result would be in a far poorer economic position.

COVID has shown that there is going to be challenges where projects have been supported by multiple funders. Each funder has a set of different criteria that need to be met. There needs to be more unity from funders on the criteria and outputs they require. Where projects have started to re-commence, the costs to cover work whilst social distancing measures are in place are excessive, so the questions are being asked whether to wait until things have returned to something approaching normal, or until policy has been revised.

The Pavilion in Rothesay had been neglected to the core for decades. We managed to put together a funding package supported by eight or nine principle funders, but everyone has different criteria and it makes it incredibly difficult… We want to work with funders and ask if we can be more flexible to make this happen… Otherwise I fear the building could be abandoned with millions of pounds of investment. – Fergus Murray, Head of Economic Development and Strategic Transportation, Argyll & Bute Council 

Collaboration and a people focus 

COVID has necessitated greater collaboration and sharing of information, especially from a policy perspective. HES, BEFS, The Heritage Alliance, Cadw, and the Communities Directorate in Norther Ireland have been working together to share information and understanding of UK wide issues and national focus around policies; the Historic Environment Forum – COVID Task Group have also enabled the sharing of information. With the government set to announce investment into new infrastructure and construction projects, the heritage sector needs to look at how it can be built into that agenda. There needs to be a collaborative approach from individuals and organisations across the sector to work towards a united approach.

There is a recognised value of the heritage and culture around us; we have an opportunity where people now appreciate what they’ve lost. We need new ways of thinking and new ways of working; we need to simplify and collaborate more if we are going to move forward. – Fergus Murray, Head of Economic Development and Strategic Transportation, Argyll & Bute Council 

The archaeological sector was presented as an example of success with the presence of the Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, which has been created to assist in driving forward the delivery of the related Our Place in Time strand. Several workshops held in late 2019 provided a space for blue sky thinking, scenario planning and frank conversations about the future of the sector. The recommendations that came out of those workshops can be found here.

There was discussion around the numerous specialisms across the heritage sector. Whilst it is appropriate to have specialists, we need people to be able to surf between those specialist silos. A culture of collaboration and sharing is much more powerful and should be encouraged.  Although there were questions about centralising, support was shown for maintaining local specialisms, and for the wider need for collaboration within (ie Local Authorities and HES) and between related sectors, such as with natural heritage bodies such as SNH.

Embedding the importance of heritage within Scottish Government’s thinking is best done with a skills and people led recovery approach. The sector needs to work together to identify where there is a lack of skills for projects, and what opportunities could be created. Heritage would benefit from being less building and more people focused, by thinking about using and being innovative with the built environment.

This is actually all about people. Regulations are inanimate objects and policies are inanimate objects. It relies on people to make things happen, and that’s as true of planners as it is of the communities they serve… everything we do that affects a place needs people to work together, the people who are responsible for bringing people together need to remember that… that would be my plea to planners: don’t try and do this alone, bring everybody on board. – Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland

The COVID emergency is a chance for the sector to change the expression of its responses towards a number of policy arenas. In terms of recovery economics, whether that ties into a wider: green, maintenance, or wellbeing focused recovery; how the sector expresses what heritage provides within policy arenas will be key.

It is essential that we enable stronger arguments to be made for the value of the historic and built environment; the sector has the opportunity to demonstrate purpose, worth, involvement, and highlight the benefits it can provide. However, if the heritage sector finds itself reeling over its own viability in the face of COVID, it will not be well placed to mount a strong advocacy campaign. We need to work collectively and be prepared.


List will be updated as more information is released in relation to statutory and policy.

AGER report
Archaeology Strategy
Architectural Heritage FundArchitectural Heritage fund  highlighted as having a small amount of funding available to help support ground level, early stage grants with a desire to assist high streets in Scotland.  
BEFS Policy Responses
CIfA Workshops report 
ECCLR Committee EU Continuity
ECCLR Committee Green Recovery
Energy Policy Journal – article on retrofit
Historic Environment ScotlandMinimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations
Historic Environment ScotlandHistoric Environment Policy for Scotland (HEPS)
Key Agencies Statement on Green Recovery
National Partnership for CultureNational Partnership for Culture
National Performance FrameworkNational Performance Framework 
National Planning FrameworkNPF4
Our Place in Time
PM Build Build Build statement
Rothesay Pavilion
Scottish Empty Homes PartnershipScottish Empty Homes Partnership
Scotland’s Culture StrategyScotland’s Culture Strategy
SG Planning Act Planning (Scotland) Act
SG Community Empowerment ActCommunity Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015
SG Transient Visitor LevyTransient Visitor Levy
SG Land Reform ActLand Reform (Scotland) Act
Scottish Tourism Recovery TaskforceScottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce
Scottish Land CommissionScottish Land Commission
Shared Prosperity FundUK Prosperity fund information from Institute for Government
UK Government -MACUK Migration Advisory Committee- Shortage Occupations List